Can you imagine being in a classroom where each of your fellow students comes from a different country, speaks a different language and has different customs? This fall we have an exceptionally varied group of students from 12 different countries coming together at Divine Word College. Added to our usual mix of seminarian students are SVD fraters, Brothers and priests, Holy Spirit Sisters and Society of Catholic Life (ICM) Sisters.
Building on our mission of training future missionaries, this diversity enriches the learning environment at DWC and enhances our academic program. Students can interact in the classroom, sharing their cultures and learning from one another while providing different perspectives.
Sounds good in theory – how do our students and teachers respond?
“My Level 3 ESL class has seven students from six different countries,” says Sandy Reno, Assistant Professor and Director of the Intensive English Language Institute. “It’s very cool how they all cooperate with each other, showing sincere care and interest in their respective cultures.” Reno adds, “As an instructor, there is a nice sense of accomplishment when you see the language ability of not only seminarians improving – who will go on to study in the college – but also the SVD fraters, Brothers and priests and the Sisters who will very soon continue ministry somewhere. You feel in a small way that you are contributing to mission work.”
Thinh Duc Tran, a DWC sophomore, used to isolate himself from people who are from different countries. As a native of Vietnam, he says, “I was afraid of feeling shame if I spoke or answered wrong.” Today, Tran feels differently. “I find that everyone accepts me and helps me. Now, whenever I go to class, I become active in answering questions and involved in class activity.” Tran adds that the SVDs who are studying at the college are role models for him because “they do everything (work-study, community service and academics) to the best of their abilities.”
One of these SVD role models is ESL student Fr. Paul (Qian) Zhou, SVD, who comes to the college from mainland China, where he is involved in pastoral, biblical and parish ministry. Zhou stresses the importance of listening as a communication skill. “Being here is a positive educational experience,” he says. “We have come from different backgrounds to learn. Each of us has a strong desire to learn about each other, and we are asking questions of each other and listening.” Coming from a culture where listening is valued more than speaking, Zhou feels that “we are all in this new situation together, and this makes it easier to share and encourage one another. We want everyone to smile!”
A freshman from Sudan, Joseph Okello is happy to be here as a student at DWC, a place he calls “a peaceful and cooperative society where I hope to find my vocation.” He has his own positive impressions to share. “The SVDs, students, Sisters, Fraters and Brothers are the real seeds of the Society of the Divine Word – the future missionaries,” Okello says. “Being with them and interacting together is important because we achieve cohesiveness as one body in the SVD.”
And just who is the student and who is the teacher in this diverse learning environment?
Larry Udry, Assistant Professor in the ESL Institute, finds this multicultural classroom setting both enriching and stimulating. “In one combined Level 4 / Level 5 ESL class,” says Udry, “I have five Sisters from two different religious orders, one SVD priest and seminarians from a variety of ethnic groups. With such diversity, I can step back and let the class become less ‘teacher-oriented’ – enabling the students to express themselves.” Udry adds that lively disagreements between students provide enlightened interaction and surprising insights. “In this expressive environment, I can be challenged,” says Udry, “and that can be both thought-provoking and rewarding.”
Sr. Graciella Castro, SSpS, and Sr. Carolina Giay, SSpS, both from Argentina, are students in Udry’s class. Castro is excited about this semester’s unique diversity. “So many cultures and languages enrich our classes in as many different ways,” she says. A self-described perfectionist, Castro explains, “I expect a lot from myself. Because speaking English is harder for me than writing it, the new students are role models for me! Their confidence helps me not to be afraid when I speak.” When asked whether she is a role model for others, Castro is humble. “I was new here once,” she offers, “and maybe I can help those who are new now, and encourage them.”
“The differences here at DWC are challenges in communication with one another,” says Giay. Enthusiastic about her studies, she adds, “The variety of accents and the various levels of learning give me the opportunity to listen carefully and be ready to help others too. This is wonderful!” Giay feels that efforts are as important as results. “I appreciate each small effort of my classmates in order to improve our skills in learning English. I value each step we take, no matter how small it is.” Her studies at Divine Word College play an important role in her vocation. “Not only does diversity enrich my learning process,” Giay says, “but also my own vocational process as a missionary. We are following Jesus, and like Him, growing in faith and passing over beyond the cultural boundaries.”
Vinh Quoc Nguyen, an ESL student from Vietnam, is also in Udry’s class. “Many of the ESL students are Fraters, Sisters, Brothers and priests, so I’ve learned a lot from their experiences, which will be useful to me in my future life as a missionary. Therefore, I haven’t been missing any classes and I am glad to have them as my classmates.” Nguyen feels that the Sisters are especially good role models for him. “Time management and study schedules are not easy for me,” he admits, “but the Sisters are good at this stuff. They’ve influenced me to work seriously on my studies.”
Expanding our academic program at Divine Word College fosters the formation of our seminarians, dynamic classroom participation, improved study habits and a welcoming environment of student interaction.
Frt. Orlando Abreu, SVD, feels very positive about his education in diversity. “This coexistence with students of other cultures helps me in my missionary vocation,” he says. “I say this because the missionary spirit is the ability to engage, participate and live with cultural diversity. Being here is a grace from God for me.” Abreu, who is from Brazil, believes his presence as a role model for the seminary students is important. “When they see us as SVDs doing work-study, participating in liturgy, ministry and community activities – they realize how much we are involved in SVD spirituality. I hope that my being here encourages others to continue their vocational journeys.”
“I learn much from the new students, even the younger ones – everyone has something unique to offer,” says Hai Dominic Vu. Originally from Vietnam, Vu is a junior and has been at DWC since 2005. He would like to become a priest and care for orphaned children in 3rd world countries. He shares his own unique spin on being a student in a multicultural environment: “Diversity can also result in misunderstandings and it is important to turn that negative into a positive. This forces me to be better, to try harder and to reach out to new students.” Vu is especially impressed with the example of the Sisters who are students at the college. “Their faith is strong,” he says, “and they are wise, with a deep understanding of God. They are role models for me, helping me to practice a better faith.”
Fr. Stanley Jawa, SVD, comes to DWC from Indonesia, and feels that diversity is “one of the very best gifts, emphasizing the SVD motto of One Heart, Many Faces. It gives me appreciation of other cultures and customs.” Jawa believes that a sense of responsibility is key in being a role model for seminarians. “As an SVD member, I should have extra time to be a brother for others.” He is eager to share another positive experience in diversity that he encountered. In December of 2004, after the huge earthquake and tsunami that took place in Indonesia, killing many people, Jawa was one of the Catholic volunteers offering aid. In a country that is predominantly Muslim, Jawa relates: “They welcomed me and I helped them in everything they needed. Appreciation for others is the most beautiful thing that we must have.”
Here at Divine Word College, our differences become our greatest strengths.